POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – Last week’s matchup between No. 5 Lakeland and No. 4 Poughkeepsie was a game so intense, with immense talent on both sides, that it very well could have been a Section 1 Class A semifinal at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
Instead, the Hornets traveled to Poughkeepsie on Wednesday, Feb. 26, in a quarterfinal contest, and gave the defending state Class A champions all they could handle. But in the end, Lakeland fell to the Pioneers, 65-56.
Lakeland coach Steve Fallo said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“The team played with a lot of energy and confidence tonight,” Fallo said. “They were well prepared to play and they left it all on the floor. Couldn’t have asked for anything more from this group.”
The first quarter was a back and forth affair, with the Hornets (17-5) up 16-15 at the end of it.
“After the first quarter, we had a lot of confidence and knew we could play with them, since we had a lead and didn’t even shoot the ball well,” said Lakeland’s Jack Kruse, who scored 13 points.
Augie Karaqi, who scored a team-high 29 points, gave the Hornets a six-point advantage in the second quarter, with three straight hoops, putting Lakeland up 25-19.
“We knew how fast Poughkeepsie gets up and down the floor, so we knew we had to match their energy and we were doing just that,” Karaqi said.
Poughkeepsie rallied to go up 34-28 at halftime, and 47-41, at the end of three quarters.
Lakeland answered back, cutting the Poughkeepsie lead to two, 52-50, on a layup by Karaqi, in the final quarter.
“I was feeling good about our chances, getting within two,” Karaqi said. “Our momentum was starting to build up, and I knew Poughkeepsie was starting to feel some pressure as well.”
Conversely, Kruse felt no pressure at the line when he connected on two free-throw attempts, pulling the Hornets to within four of the Pioneers, 58-54.
“At the foul line, I was thinking we needed them if we still had a shot at a comeback, so I just blocked out the noise and put them in,” Kruse said. “Making them felt pretty good but I was more focused on the next play.”
While a comeback wasn’t meant to be, the loss couldn’t erase what has been the best Lakeland boys basketball campaign in the last 11 years, which included its first opening-round sectional victory since 2009, and sole possession, of the League 2-C title.
“We were successful because we made a commitment to put the work in that is necessary to compete in Class A,” Fallo said. “We have been in the weight room and the gym over the last couple of years an awful lot.”
Jeffrey Owusu contributed 7 points in the Hornets’ effort in Dutchess County. Owusu, along with Mike Arcure, Karaqi, and Kruse made up the senior class.
“This senior group of Jack, Augie, Mike and Jeff has shown the younger guys that hard work and commitment pays off,” Fallo said. “It has been a pleasure to have coached them over the last few years. They will be missed.”
Karaqi and Kruse, Lakeland’s two All-Section players, will each miss being part of this quartet.
“I’ll miss being able to play basketball with guys that I call brothers off the court,” Karaqi said. “I’m glad I was able to share my memories with them, on and off the court.”
So was Kruse.
“The thing I’m going to miss most about playing with Augie, Jeff, and Mike, is just being able to play with three really cool guys, who made every day fun,” Kruse said.